Brewing Tea 101

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If you are new to tea or want to revisit the basics of brewing, I hope this little article will help.

We take care of the way we infuse our teas, because this is the last step in the long series of process that make a leaf into a great beverage. It is a way to honour those who have cultivated and crafted the teas, as well as a way to enjoy it maximally.

First, let’s start with the different methods. You can brew your leaves “western style”, meaning in a big pot, for a couple of minutes, or “Chinese style”, or “gong fu cha style”, where several infusions will be done of the same leaves, lasting couple of seconds each.

It all comes down to personal preference and timing. While gong fu cha style demands a little bit more focus and manipulations, it it also very pleasant and aesthetic of an exercise. On the other hand, brewing in a big pot is handy, and can produce at once a greater quantity of tea.

“Western style”

If you are to go for a simple infusion in a big pot, there are two main parameters that matter: The duration of the infusion, and the temperature of the water.

How long will you steep the leaves for depends both on the leaves themselves, and on your taste preference. Usually the tea sellors will have recommendations for every tea. If you don’t mind a bit of bitterness as a trade off for stronger taste, you can test steeping a bit longer, and on the other hand if you like it light, steep a little quicker.

As for the temperature, there should as well be recommendations from, the sellor. As a general rule, white, yellow and green teas are infused in a milder temperature – around 80 degrees celcius – while black teas, oolongs and aged teas are infused in almost boiling water – around 95 degrees. A green tea infused in a boiling water might show it’s teeth and you’ll have a bitter tea instead of a round and oily liquor full of fragrance, while an oolong infused at 80 degrees will not give you all it’s taste potential.

Having said that though, these are general guidelines and not fixed rules. Some really good quality green teas can absolutely handle boiling water, and cold brews are also a thing so, it is all up for experiments. What stays true though, is that the colder the water, the longer you’ll have to steep the leaves. (cold brew gives great results, erasing almost entirely the bitterness and enhancing the fragrance – same with ice brew!)

One last thing to keep in mind when steeping loose leafs in a big pot, is to have enough capacity on your cups or in a pitcher to pour out the entire content of the teapot once the steeping time is reached. If you only serve yourself a cup and leave the rest in the pot until your’e ready for another cup, it will become harsh.

see available big pots

“Gong fu cha style”

The first thing to understand about timing, is that the aromatic oils chill at the surface of the leaves. Wether it is because the leaves have been rolled for the purpose of bringing these oils to the surface, or because they are tiny delicate leaves and buds with a fur fill with these oils responsible for aromas. These oils will be released into the water first. And this is one of the reason tea affectionados often prefer the gong fu cha method. Short steeps, with a little bit more leaves, and you have a mouth full of flavours. To test out a tea, this is the way to go.

Typically, the infusions will last 10 to 30 seconds each, and will increase slightly after the 3rd steep. The second is often the strongest, because the leaves are opened up and ready to release their juice, and still filled with all of it. Hence the second steep should be the shortest one, not the first. Depending on the tea, you will be able to get around 6 to 15 steeps. Whites and greens, as well as blacks will usually because less enjoyable (dry or bitter) firts, and oolongs and puerhs will be very generous.

For that style, you will need a small vessel – again depending on personnal preference but generally around 120ml. This vessel can be a teapot, a gaiwan, a shibo… as long as it’s small. Also, you will need a cup large enough to receive the whole content. Or, again, a pitcher, from which you can then pour out in two or three cups if you are sharing tea, for exemple. Also, having a thermos that keeps the water at the right temperature really helps, since you don’t have to reheat the water between every steep.

“Gong fu”, or “kung fu” (same word) means mastery, effort, skill. So this method is an art like any other, and it’s goal is to make the perfect cup.

This is also where you can expend your teaware and get a “boat” that can recieve water from rinces or first steeps you don’t want to drink etc. Basically play a little more with water, get messy while staying clean and dry on your table. You can also get a teapet, that will feed of your rejected first steeps and bring your sessions luck and cuteness, etc.

By controlling a minimum the time of infusion and the temperature of the water, you can make good tea either in a big pot or in a small gong fu cha pot. The choice depends on your equipment, time, and level of playfulness of the moment.

See available gong fu cha teapot

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